Comics Alternative, Episode 297: Reviews of DC Comics before Superman, My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies, and Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion #1

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Heroes, Pre- and Post-

This week Sterg and Derek check out three intriguing, yet very different, titles. They begin with Nicky Wheeler-Nicholson’s DC Comics before Superman: Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson’s Pulp Comics (Hermes Press). This is a collection of comics written or inspired by the writing of Major Malcolm Wheeler-Nicholson and an overview of the pre-Superman history of the publisher. After that they look at Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips’s My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies (Image Comics), the latest noir narrative in their Criminal series. And then the guys wrap up with Umbrella Academy: Hotel Oblivion #1, Gerard Way and Gabriel Bá’s return to their Umbrella Academy world.

Comics Alternative, Euro Comics: Review of The Arab of the Future, Books 1-3

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:03:02 – Being away in September
  • 00:05:21 – The Arab of the Future, books 1-3
  • 01:26:07 – Wrap up
  • 01:28:05 – Contact us

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Between Cultures

On this episode of the Euro Comics series, Pascal and Derek look at the first three books of Riad Sattouf’s series, The Arab of the Future. Each of these volumes is thick in content, giving the guys a lot to discuss. And while they do a bit of close reading in their discussion, much of what Pascal and Derek do is provide larger overviews, focusing on themes, narrative structures, aesthetic choices, and cultural contexts. In fact, Pascal had read each of these books originally in French — indeed, he is now in the middle of reading the fourth volume that is already available in France — so he provides some of the context that might escape American readers. Both of the guys are bowled away by this series, and they eagerly await the continuation of this graphic memoir…and other translated works by Sattouf.

Webcomics: Reviews of The Zombie Hunters, Kim Reaper, and Nothing Is Forgotten

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Zombies, Reapers, and…Some Sorta Thing

On this, the Two Guys’ annual Halloween webcomics episode, Sean and Derek discuss three horror-related titles, each of which is quite different one from the other. They begin with Jenny Romanchuk’s The Zombie Hunters, a story that has been serialized since 2006. This is a post-apocalyptic narrative that centers on a group of zombie hunters who are themselves infected by a virus that could possibly turn them into the undead, should they die a natural death. After that they look at Kim Reaper, a relatively new webcomic created by Sara Graley, and one that could arguably be described as a horror romcom. Finally, they discuss Ryan Andrews’s Nothing Is Forgotten, a somewhat short but nonetheless powerful story about a young boy who buries his father the same day he stumbles upon a lair of some ill-defined and mysterious creature.

 

Episode 296: Reviews of Scratches #2, Now #4, and Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1

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Anthologies and a Classic Cop

On this episode Sterg and Derek check out two new anthologies, as well as a recent incarnation of Dick Tracy. They begin with Scratches #2, a comics and art anthology curated by Joost Swarte (and distributed in the Americas by Conundrum Press). They actually spend the majority of the episode discussing this collection, which includes mostly European artists. After that they eagerly jump into the latest issue of Eric Reynold’s Now. This is Fantagraphics’ exciting anthology that began last year. In this issue we see work by, among others, Walt Holcombe, Cynthia Alfonso, Roman Muradov, Tommi Parrish, Theo Ellsworth, Rebecca W. Kirby, and David Alvardo. Finally, they wrap up with Dick Tracy: Dead or Alive #1, the first in a four-issue limited series. Written by Lee and Michael Allred, and with art by Rich Tommaso, this is (to some degree) an updated handling of Dick Tracy in that the legendary detective is fighting crime in the current day. But although temporal setting is contemporary, the issue still has the feel of a classic comic-strip narrative, including big-presence villains, a detective with many tricks up his sleeve, and a storyline that at times seems outrageous…but in a good way. The Two Guys really hope that this Dick Tracy has a long life well after the limited series.

Comics Alternative for Young Readers: Reviews of 3×4, The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall, and Sheets

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Boo!

On this episode of the Comics Alternative’s Young Readers show, Gwen is joined by her new co-host, Dr. Krystal Howard, an assistant professor in the Liberal Studies and English departments at California State University, Northridge. Krystal has been reading, writing about, and teaching children’s and YA comics for a number of years and has a particular interest in gender and comics studies. In 2017, Krystal’s essay “Gothic Excess and the Body in Vera Brosgol’s Anya’s Ghost” appeared in Gwen’s co-edited volume (with Michelle Ann Abate), Graphic Novels for Children and Young Adults, and she has another comics-related essay, “Comics Grammar in Neil Gaiman and Dave McKean’s Picture Book Collaborations” that is forthcoming in The Artistry of Neil Gaiman: Finding Light in the Shadows. Regular listeners to the Young Readers show will already know Krystal from her spot as a panelist last summer on a special roundtable that Gwen and Paul Lai hosted on the future of children’s and YA comics.

Before they begin discussing the books for this month’s show, Gwen and Krystal mention the wonderful contributions of Paul Lai, who has recently graduated with his doctorate from the School of Education in Language, Literacy, and Culture at the University of California, Berkeley, and who has begun a new position as Director of UC Berkeley’s prestigious BE3 program, which stands for Berkeley Educators for Equity and Excellence. Paul intends to return to the Comics Alternative family from time to time as a podcaster, and Gwen and Krystal wish him the very best in his new role.

During the main portion of the show, Gwen and Krystal discuss three new releases: Ivan Brunetti’s 3 x 4, published last month by TOON Books and geared towards early elementary readers, and two Halloween-oriented middle grade graphic novels: Drew Weing’s The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall, which is the second in the Margo Maloo series from First Second books, and Brenna Thummler’s debut, Sheets, put out by Lion Forge’s Cubhouse imprint.

Both Krystal and Gwen found Brunetti’s 3 x 4 to be a great addition to the plethora of STEM-focused comics that have been published in the last five years, including First Second’s Science Comics series and Mike Holmes and Gene Luen Yang’s Secret Coders. Krystal praises Brunetti for his inclusion of a diverse and eclectic group of young people, and Gwen notes that for the detail-oriented child, every page offers up an opportunity to discover the many ways that the number 12 can be divided into sets!

Next, the two PhDs consider Drew Weing’s follow up to his highly successful first volume of the Margo Maloos series: The Creepy Case Files of Margo Maloo: The Monster Mall. Gwen appreciates Weing’s decision to continue focusing on the costs of gentrification, while Krystal notes that the inclusion of teenage characters adds a new dimension to the series.

Finally, Gwen and Krystal discuss the amazing debut by Brenna Thummler, Sheets (Lion Forge), which takes place in a lake resort town and focuses on the struggles of a young woman who has become the proprietor of her family’s laundromat, all while trying to fit in at middle school. Her interactions with Wendell, the ghost of an eleven-year-old boy, end up making life a lot better for both of them. Krystal points out Thummler’s attention to figural placement and atmospherics, and Gwen suggests that while some of the plot points might seem a little far-fetched, the novel holds together well and deals with class conflict in a manner that is also present in Weing’s Margo Maloo series.

In November, Gwen and Krystal will be back with another set of books to review, as well as 2018 best-of-list recommendations for our listener’s winter holiday celebrations.

Comics Alternative, Manga: Reviews of Vérité #1 and Cutie Honey: The Classic Collection

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Little T&A

Shea and Derek are back for their September manga episode. (Yeah, yeah. We know it’s the beginning of October, but the guys were a little late getting last month’s show recorded.) This time they discuss two intriguing titles, each quite different one from the other. They begin with the inaugural issue of Vérité, a new anthology series out of India featuring classic alternative manga as well as contributions from contemporary Indian artists that have a gekiga feel to them. The guys were glad to see work from Tadao Tsuge, Susumu Katsumata, and Youji Tsuneyama, but they were also taken by fresh Indian voices such as those of Anpu Varkey, Shaunak Samvatsar, Nandita Basu, and Bharath Murthy, Vérité‘s editor. After that, Shea and Derek discuss Cutie Honey: The Classic Collection, by Go Nagai. This is another one of Seven Seas Entertainment’s nice hardbound collections of classic 1970s manga, other titles including Captain Harlock and Devilman. The guys emphasize Cutie Honey as a representative kind of shonen manga for its time, but they spend most of the time discussing the, at times discomforting, sexual or erotic nature of Go Nagai’s creation. What was written for a particular audience back in the 1970s may come across as gratuitous or even offensive to more contemporary readers. But both Derek and Shea point out that, despite the erotic weirdness apparent at times, the story is engaging and worth revisiting.

Comics Alternative Interviews: Back with Howard Shapiro

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:22 – Setup of interview
  • 00:03:58 – Interview with Howard Shapiro
  • 01:06:33 – Wrap up
  • 01:07:06 – Contact us

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Nazis in the Bathroom Just below the Stairs

A common theme in Howard Shapiro’s stories is the significance of music. His first graphic novel, The Sterotypical Freaks, revolved around competing high school bands and how that competition and their dedication to the music defined each member’s life. In his latest book, Queen of Kenosha (Animal Media Group), music once again takes center narrative state. It’s the story of young singer-songwriter from Wisconsin, Nina Overstreet, who comes to New York City in the early 1960s to make it on the folk scene. What she unexpectedly finds is espionage and ideological conspiracy. Whereas in his earlier Forever Friends series of graphic novels Howard wedded music to hockey as the backdrop for his stories, here in Queen of Kenosha — the first book in what he’s calling The Thin Thinline Trilogy — he uses music within the context of geopolitical intrigue. In this conversation, Derek talks with Howard about the impetus behind his latest project, the importance of music to his storytelling, the kind of research he conducted to set the historical stage, and his plans for following up on his songwriting protagonist. Howard was on the podcast a couple of years ago when Hockey Karma was released, and it was nice to touch base with him again and discuss his subsequent work.

Comics Alternative, Episode 295: The October Previews Catalog

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Going Long

It’s the first of the month, so it’s time to look at the latest Previews catalog! What’s more, this is Sterg’s very first Previews show, and Derek honors this occasion with much fanfare. As listeners have come to expect from the monthly Previews shows, this episode goes long. In fact, it goes extra long, and in many ways this becomes a trial by fire for Sterg as a new cohost. But he rises to the occasion, providing solid and tireless recommendations of upcoming titles. For October, the Two Guys with PhDs discuss a variety of  publishers and titles such as:

 

Comics Alternative, On Location: SPX 2018, “The Practice of Diary Comics” Panel

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:27 – Introduction
  • 00:02:12 – Panel context, with Glynnis Fawkes
  • 00:14:02 – “The Practice of Diary Comics” panel
  • 01:09:40 – Wrap up
  • 01:10:50 – Contact us

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Sriracha

The middle of last month, September 15-16, saw the Small Press Expo held in North Bethesda, MD. At the event, Derek moderated a panel on that Sunday afternoon entitled “The Practice of Diary Comics.” Participating in the discussion were Glynnis Fawkes, Summer Pierre, Kevin Budnik, and Dustin Harbin. This episode of the podcast presents an audio recording of that event, and joining Derek in setting up the context is Glynnis Fawkes. She, Derek, and Summer Pierre were the ones who organized the panel, decided on its topic focus, and reached out to the other contributors about joining in. In setting up the panel recording, Glynnis and Derek discuss their initial plans for the session, some of the concerns they had in coming up with a focus, and how the topic evolved. Then they get to the recording of the event. The sound quality of the audio is “rough” at times — the gain on some of the microphones sounds as if it was turned up a bit too high — but that’s something that the participants had no way of controlling. Nonetheless, everything is legible, and you can certainly make out clearly what everyone says…as well as Dustin’s singing and consuming of donuts.

A big thanks to Rob Clough for working with us on this panel and for overseeing the programming at this year’s SPX!

Participants from the left: Dustin Harbin, Summer Pierre, Kevin Budnik, Glynnis Fawkes, and Derek Royal

Comics Alternative, Webcomics: Reviews of E.T. Girl, Bicycle Boy, and Broken Telephone

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A Girl, a Boy, and a Telephone

On the September webcomics show, Sean and Derek look at three intriguing titles. They begin with E.T. Girl, written and illustrated by theplanetsdreamer (and whose real name is Kimberly Kotschi). This is a relatively new webcomic, a mix of sci-fi and fantasy, and plays upon the alien abduction convention. After that they check out Jackarais’s Bicycle Boy, a work that has been going on for over 5 years. However, the narrative is well-paced and with incredible art. This is also a sci-fi story, but one set in an a post-apocalyptic future with a cyborg as its protagonist. The Two Guys wrap up the episode with the already-completed Broken Telephone, a unique series of interconnected storylines that become more solidly interwoven as the webcomic progresses. Ryan Estrada is the writer of all the storylines, but with each installment, 18 in all, he uses a different artist or artistic team to express his narrative vision.

 

Comics Alternative Special: A Roundtable Discussion on Comics and Podcasting for International Podcast Day 2018

Shop Talk

In celebration of International Podcast Day 2018, Derek invites a variety of other comics podcasters to discuss their experiences in the medium. Joining him are Gina Gagliano, from Graphic Novel TK; Greg Matiasevich, from Robots from Tomorrow; Jay Loving, from The Best of the Rest; and Gwen Tarbox, from The Comics Alternative for Young Readers.

Find out more about International Podcast Day and how you can help promote podcasting worldwide. And be sure to share your thoughts on social media using #PodcastDay.

Comics Alternative, On Location: The Second September Visit to Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find

Batman’s Junk

Michael and Derek are back at their local shop, Heroes Aren’t Hard to Find, to discuss recent mainstream and indie titles that have captured their attention. Mike starts the ball rolling by focusing on recent expressions of a couple of second-tier characters, Doctor Strange and Hawkman, as handled by Mark Waid and Robert Venditti, respectively. He then takes the conversation into a more “adult” direction with the first issue in Batman: Damned, part of DC’s new Black Label imprint. This title is notable for a couple of reasons. First, it’s now difficult to find, and as such, both fans and retailers are selling copies for a hefty price. But even more significant is the fact that in this first issue, readers get to see Batman naked. That’s right, Wayne’s wang. Batman’s junk. The recent titles that Derek brings up are much tamer in nature. He begins with Matt Kindt and Tyler Jenkins’s Black Badge (BOOM! Studio), the second issue of which will be released next week. This is a promising new limited series that has all of the secretive, undercover, and espionage-y markings of a Kindt narrative. However, Derek isn’t as excited about the new Image series, Man-Eaters, written by Chelsea Cain and art by Kate Niemczyk. While he admires the message that seems to be embedded in the story, the first issue is rather sketchy in laying any satisfying narrative groundwork. But Derek more enamored by the minicomic Common Blessings and Common Curses, written by Maritsa Patrinos and nominated this year for an Ignatz Award in the Outstanding Minicomic category. It was a wonderful find at this year’s Small Press Expo.

Remember that The Comics Alternative‘s on-location series is now part of the Queen City Podcast Network! Check out the great podcast series that give life to Charlotte!

Comics Alternative Interviews: Another Conversation with Tillie Walden

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:20 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:01 – Interview with Tillie Walden
  • 01:15:35 – Wrap up
  • 01:17:30 – Contact us

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Queer Women in Space, or Women in Space Who Are Queer?

Sterg and Derek are happy to have Tillie Walden back on the podcast. (She was originally on The Comics Alternative in June 2015, her very first podcast interview!) Her latest book, On a Sunbeam, will be released next week from First Second. This narrative actually began as a webcomic — one that was nominated for an Eisner Award last year, and one that is still available online — but now it will be available in print. The Two Guys talk with Tillie about the process of creating On a Sunbeam and its importance as a webcomic, the science fiction scaffolding around which the narrative is constructed, and how this work compares to some of her earlier books. In fact, much of the conversation is focused on the kind of fantastical stories Tillie spins out, with flying fish planes and cats large enough to ride on. The guys also ask her about last year’s Spinning, the winner of a 2018 Eisner Award for Best Reality-Based Work, and the creative shifts she had to make with this outright autobiography. Over the course of their conversation, Tillie shares her experiences growing as a storyteller, her large and dedicated fanbase, the almost improvisational nature of her writing, and her discomfort being pigeonholed primarily as a writer for teens or as a lesbian creator.

Comics Alternative, Episode 294: Reviews of Coyote Doggirl, Baseline Blvd., and Cemetery Beach #1

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Juicy Feeling

This week Sterg and Derek discuss three fascinating and genre-spanning titles. They begin with Lisa Hanawalt’s Coyote Doggirl (Drawn and Quarterly). As the guys point out, this is a humor-infused story that engages with the western genre. Both Derek and Sterg mention that while they appreciate Hanawalt’s off-beat sense of humor, they haven’t been big fans of her past books, in that they weren’t so much narrative comics as they were illustrated works of humor. But Coyote Doggirl is more of a “traditional” comic, with sequential panels and a discernible storyline. The premise is more or less simple, but that’s part of the charm of this text. And the humor!

Next, the Two Guys with PhDs turn to Emi Gennis’s Baseline Blvd., released earlier this year from Kilgore Books and Comics. This actually began as a webcomic back in 2015, but it was published in hardcopy as part of Kilgore’s Kickstarter campaign for their 2018 releases. Where many of Gennis’s comics have been profiles or biographies, this latest book is more autobiographical in nature. As the guys point out, there is a silent elegance about this work, and Gennis packs a lot of story — and emotion — into her brief narrative.

The guys then wrap up the episode by looking at Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s Cemetery Beach #1 (Image Comics). Sterg observes that this seems to be a typical Ellis narrative — and “typical” in a good, demonstrative way — and both of the guys comment on Howard’s art. In fact, much of this first issue is carried by the illustrations. In all, it’s a successful first issue. This seven-issue sci-fi series has a lot of promise, and both Derek and Sterg look forward to seeing where the creators take their premise.

 

Comics Alternative Interviews: Jason Lutes

Time Codes:

  • 00:00:24 – Introduction
  • 00:02:26 – Setup of interview
  • 00:04:50 – Interview with Jason Lutes
  • 01:20:31 – Wrap up
  • 01:21:13 – Contact us

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Stones, Smoke, and Light

Jason Lutes began his Berlin series in the spring of 1996, with plans to publish his ambitious project over a 24-issue run. Over the years, he pared down the number of issues to 22, and the last of those was released in March of this year. Earlier this month, Drawn and Quarterly released a complete single-volume edition of Berlin, clocking in at over 550 pages, as well as a third volume of the series, City of Light, for those who had already gotten the previous two collections, City of Stones and City of Smoke, and didn’t want to get the completed series in just one volume.

Berlin is a massive narrative with an ensemble cast. It takes place in that volatile city during the last days of the Weimar Republic, 1928-1933, when Germany was struggling with its economy and war reparations, and a variety of political factions — in particular, the Communist Party and the National Socialist Workers Party — were vying for power. Lutes’s story primarily focuses on the lives of Kurt Severing, a world-weary journalist, and Marthe Müller, an uncertain art student moving to Berlin and longing to define herself in this newly adopted city. But there are a variety of other characters, as well, and Lutes even peppers his fictional cast with several historically based figures, including the jailed journalist Carl von Ossietzky, Joseph Goebbels, Josephine Baker, and, yes, Adolf Hitler himself. The result is an expansive narrative that not only captures the Weimar culture at the time, but also explores individual desires and unpredictable relationships in the midst of political and economic upheaval. In his interview with him, Derek talks with Jason about the origins of the series, the amount of research that went into the project, how the city of Berlin became a point of inspiration, the various challenges he faced maintaining such an ongoing series for over 20 years, and where Jason’s artistic ambitions may take him next.